BackgroundMercury (Hg) is recognized as one of the 10 most toxic elements in nature and is much more persistent in soils than in other environmental compartments. However, an effective, environmentally friendly, economical, and large-scale applicable technology for the remediation of soils contaminated by Hg has not yet been established. This study evaluates the feasibility of a new carbon foam-based product for the remediation of three soils contaminated with Hg, and infers the mobilization or immobilization mechanism through a detailed study of Hg speciation.ResultsSoil treatment with carbon foams, one of them impregnated with goethite, reduced Hg availability by 75–100%. The proportion of mercury associated to humic acids (Hg–HA) determined the mobility and the availability of Hg when soils were treated with carbon foams. The drop of pH promotes changes in the structure of HA, a consequence of which is that Hg–HA becomes part of the unavailable fraction of the soil along with HgS. The carbon foam impregnated with goethite did not mobilize Fe as occurred with zero valence iron nanoparticles. The presence of acidic groups on the surface of the foam (carboxyl, quinone and phenolic groups) can strongly improve the binding of metal cations, enhancing Fe immobilization.ConclusionsA novel carbon foam-based amendment was efficient in immobilizing Hg in all the soils studied. The carbon foam impregnated with goethite, in addition to not mobilizing Fe, had the additional advantage of its low effect on the electrical conductivity of the soil. This novel approach could be considered as a potential amendment for other industrial and/or abandoned mining areas contaminated with Hg and/or other metal(loid)s.